Reviews: The Wheel Of Time
A curate's egg
The Wheel of Time bucks the trend in fantasy toward bleak stories of morally compromised 'heroes' crushing sympathetic antagonists by being about heroic heroes banding together to defeat the dark lord. Does it succeed? The Good The world is rich and interesting, with lots of history and a reasonably well-thought-out political layout. In keeping with the theme of eternal recurrence, there are parallels to real-world cultures, but they are still original creations. Magic is innovative and well done. Themes of memory and storytelling are well explored, with lots about how knowledge of history and mythology diverge wildly from reality. The idea of a messiah who nobody wants to be reborn is interesting and original. The friendship between Rand, Mat, and Perrin is well-written and feels real. Jordan writes good, exciting battle scenes, apparently drawing on his own experiences. The Bad There's a lot of padding. As the books progress, characters are separated and have their own plot threads, slowing the pace, which isn't helped by Jordan spending too long describing clothing. The nadir comes in Crossroads of Twilight, where between the first part of the prologue and the last two chapters, nothing happens. After that, Knife of Dreams wraps up a number of stretched subplots, and is overall a better book. The last three books, finished by Brandon Sanderson, cut Jordan's worst excesses and are exciting and fun - but if you've already given up on the series, they aren't good enough to justify continuing. The other issue is the treatment of women. There are plenty of strong, independent female characters, and a complete lack of "Surprise! I can use a sword!" moments. Unfortunately, what started off as a joke about how men and women can't understand each other came to be be regarded as an inviolable natural law. Sanderson improves the relationship writing a lot by mostly excising this theme, except for Mat, who in fairness draws it on himself. Strangled by the Red String is unfortunately present in strength. The universe literally forces characters into romantic relationships. This leads to numerous unsatisfying romances, and the sweet and genuine Rand/Egwene relationship is soon set aside for of something inferior. Also, Faile should have died.
The Dragon Reborn
A series as enormous as the Wheel Of Time is bound to have Fandom and Hatedom alike bickering about where exactly the series jumped the shark and which books are better left forgotten. And while I love this series, Book 3 is where our relationship became flawed. While the book in itself is not the worst in the series, it's here where several things started to manifest that would plague The Wheel Of Time later: The Dragon Reborn continues right after the previous book. Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne (from now on called the Supergirls) go back to Tar Valon so the link between Mat and the Shadar Logoth dagger can be severed, while the rest camps out in the Mountains of Mist, waiting for a revelation on what to do next. Rand however disappears overnight and is on his way to Tear, forcing the others to chase after him. The Supergirls on the other hand are tasked by the Amyrlin Seat to follow a group of Mooks to Tear, while Mat is tasked to bring a message to Elayne's mother in Caemlyn, where he overhears a conversation about a plot killing the Supergirls. Of course, now he has to travel to Tear as well. This book is one big Road Movie plot and while the former books had a limited number of subplots, we now have to follow three separate groups traveling to Tear. Three? Yes, because we don't see Rand's viewpoint until the very end of the book. In a novel with his damn title on the cover. While Mat is Rescued From The Scrappy Heap after removing his bond to the dagger and meets up with fan favorite Thom Merrylin again, resulting in the most enjoyable parts of this book, the other groups have less luck. Moraine's group meets Faile, a character almost universally considered as The Scrappy of the canon - though granted, in this novel she is just annoying. And the Supergirls... well. Nynaeve is getting flanderized heavily by taking a slighly Jerkass character and reducing her to being angry and ripping her hair out constantly. Yes, the dreaded braid-tugging begins. The other two characters remain flat, petty and are constantly bickering. Unfortunatly, the Supergirls' viewpoint encompass the majority of the book. So if you cannot stand those characters or if you expect compelling villains, you are in for a hard ride. Both female characters and villains are Jordan's definite weak points.
What can I say? I love this series
Absolute best epic fantasy series ever (yes, that does mean better that Tolkien). I love everything about it: the characters, the plot, the world, the incredible amounts of detail, all of it. Okay, yes, it is rather long (and not yet finished; next year!). Yes, the 10th book is a bit slow; not even BAD, just slow. So what? I'm rereading the whole thing for at least the sixth time and I still find little bits I missed. I enjoy it. Why would anyone want to cut down on this? There are a (very) few characters I dislike, but I think the only one you're only supposed to like is Tuon, Little Miss "Entire Continent I Have Never Been To Should Kneel At My Feet" herself. The other two are Moiraine's Replacement Scrappy Cadsuane, and that worthless slut Berelain. Pretty much everyone else on the Light side, awesome. The breadth and depth of his reference pools are incredible. From big things like Rand's obvious Christ parallels to little things like Cullen's Hound (i.e., Cuchulain), the name of an inn in Caemlyn. This is what makes the world pop out. Yes, he describes dresses...and weapons, architecture, ships, furniture, geography, horses, accents, hair styles and about a billion other things. After Jordan's tragic death in 2007, it became one of a very few book series to successfully be passed on to a new author. Sanderson's continuations are exceptionally good (although in many instances YMMV; most evident in some character interpretations and word choice). So yeah, if you like epic fantasy, give it a go.
Wonderful Despite Flaws
The novels' size is a bit daunting because there are just that many, yet within the first handful of chapters in Eye of the World, I was sucked into the world. The world-building and character development is incredibly rich. Each society/country has its own unique culture, beliefs and customs. The series has a wide variety of characters who manage to polarise the fandom, but even hating some characters (like Rand, for me), there will be others you treasure (Moiraine, Birgitte, Mat, Min, Perrin). Even disliking the main character should not put someone off the series. There are good points in deeply flawed characters (Tuon, Berelain, Logain). There are those you you start off hating and eventually love due to marvellous character development (Nynaeve, Aviendha). The magic system is interesting, with various items and locations not directly relatied to the magic system, but still 'magical'. The villains are suitably scary, with a variety that keeps the reader engaged. Aside from baby-killing evil, the books also highlight human flaws- lust for power, jealousy, laws and moral righteousness. And within these groups (Seanchan, Whitecloaks, Forsaken, etc), there are characters that are more than just villains. The fact that the books keep so many plot threads going is a strength or flaw depending on your personal taste. Inevitably, some end up as Shaggy Dog Stories, but most of them will keep you eager, ending in a climactic event. Sometimes the twists turn out to be obvious - the identity of the Dragon Reborn shouldn't be a shock. But there are some that are a complete and utter suprise, and will have your heart in your mouth. Of course, the books have their flaws, the main ones for me being - filler, poorly implemented romance storylines, lack of vital communication between characters/groups, and Mars And Venus Gender Contrast and related annoyances. Thankfully, for the majority of characters, most of this boils down to throwaway comments and random moments of idiocy. On the whole, these books are well worth reading, and easily some of the best fantasy novels around. Despite the author tragically dying partway through the series, the books remain excellent, and Sanderson stays true to the story. Seriously, The Wheel Of Time is well worth the investment in time, money and bookshelf space!